Women in politics

Just 100 years ago, there were no female politicians in the Houses of Parliament at all.

Women in politics

How well are women represented in Parliament today?

Women MPs in 1929, PA photos

Nearly a quarter of MPs in the House of Commons today are women and female members of the House of Lords make up about a fifth of the total membership. However, just one hundred years ago there were no female politicians in the Houses of Parliament at all.

Image: female MPs in 1929

A female first

In 1919, Nancy Astor became the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons. (The first woman in the House of Lords was appointed in 1958.) Even after the Equal Franchise Act was passed in 1928, giving women equal voting rights to men, the 1929 general election resulted in just 16 female MPs being elected to Parliament. Compare that with the 2010 general election, where 143 of the 650 MPs elected to the Commons were women (22%).

Slow, gradual growth until 1997

The 20th century mostly saw a gradual increase in the number of female MPs and members of the House of Lords in Parliament. That was until the 1997 general election. The number of female MPs doubled overnight from 60 to 120. Some contend that an important factor was the system of choosing party candidates through all-women shortlists, used by the Labour Party.

How are things changing?

These days, a higher proportion of young politicians are female, although there is still some way to go; currently just over one in five Members of Parliament are women,compared with just over one half of the adult population.

Key dates

1919 - First female MP to sit in Parliament, Nacy Astor

1979 - First female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher

1982 - First female leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Janet mary Young

1992 - First female Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd

2006 - The first Lord Speaker, Baroness Hayman.


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